The data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica recently set off multiple scandals. The firm was credited with an important role in the election outcome in the U.S. (presidential election 2016) and in England (Brexit referendum). Users of digital networks were deliberately targeted with disinformation and inflammatory propaganda on the basis of illegally gathered personal data. Surfacing in Algo-Rhythm is a firm called Data Analytica, which generalizes the corresponding principle: nowadays, elections are won by algorithmizing campaigns rather than buying votes. Manu Luksch situates this process in her film in a surprising location: Senegal is considered one of the most successful African democracies in which politically-engaged Hip Hop, in the role of watch dog, has had continued success in mobilizing resistance to the abuses of power.
In Algo-Rhythm, the West-African country becomes a perfect example of future confrontations regarding political representation and decision making. Two candidates for the office of president face Mr. X from Data Analytica, who is advertising his methods. The discourse occurs in the form of a rap or a rap battle. Luksch lets a political landscape arise that also includes traditional figures (a Griot woman) and the people. The form of the exchange is rhymed, language advanced by digitally syncopated beats. In the background of the image, what is being talked about is obvious the entire time: Mr. X, the Aladdin of data analysis lets reality crumble into data bytes. Manu Luksch acts out the data maneuver with aerial shots and other landscape images, which at a different level also take place with the networks (with the "drugs of the nation"): in a cloud of selection, photogrammetric and other information-logic-based picture image processes dismantle the old (political) world of analogue representation, that is, voting and representation of the political body. (Bert Rebhandl)
Translation: Lisa Rosenblatt
Convenience, not choice. Efficiency, not freedom. Frictionless experience: a data musical against automated propaganda.
In marketing and the retail sector, data analytics is widely used to profile and microtarget consumers and to predict behaviour. The ultimate goal, apparently, is for humans to be able to outsource all decision-making to machine intelligence (make Google do it!). What is at stake within the political realm?
ALGO-RHYTHM, shot in Dakar with the participation of leading Senegalese musicians, poets and graffiti artists, probes the insidious but comprehensive threats to human rights and agency posed by the rise of the quantification and algorithmic management of daily life. Using hiphop, drama, street art and data-driven filmmaking, the work explores how our embrace of the convenience of machine intelligence, refracted through the slick interface of smartphone apps, makes us vulnerable to manipulation by
Recognising the urgent need for a new visual language to illuminate this concern, Manu Luksch collaborated closely with Jack Wolf and Mukul Patel to develop a hybrid narrative form that unites photogrammetry and volumetric filmmaking with traditional approaches. Through its auratic and poetic use of computational imaging technologies, ALGO-RHYTHM scrutinizes the limitations, errors and abuses of algorithmic representations. (production note)
Mukul Patel about Algo-Rhythm
Multiple approaches, tools and techniques were chosen to reflect the multilayered content of the work. A major part of the imagery was created through photogrammetry, a method of `computational photography` in which algorithms are used to calculate the path of the ray that hits the image sensor. Our use of computational photography to reveal previously hidden information in an image points to the use of Ai on personal datasets to reveal previously hidden information about individuals or groups.
The computational photography element of the work was carried out using low-cost tools and DIY/hacker approaches as far as possible, to demonstrate that in the `AI era`, the incumbent powers do not have a monopoly on computation. Our image capture equipment included a DSLR, a pair of compact video cameras with 235° fisheye lenses mounted back-to-back to capture a complete 360° field of view, a drone-mounted 4K video camera, and a Microsoft Kinect motion sensing game input device.
Stills from the DSLR and sequences of stills from the 360° immersive video and the drone camera were fed into photogrammetry software that stitched them together and computed depth information, to create a large 3D point cloud or polygion mesh. The Kinect`s time-of-light` camera illuminates nearby objects with pulses of IR light, and calculates a depth map (3D image) of the exposed surfaces from the timing of the reflected pulse.
The resulting motion and depth information is used to construct point clouds (a set of points representing the 3D extent of the scene) and polygonal meshes. The Kinect sensor can produce point clouds/meshes at film-like rates, resulting in a a moderate resolution video file that can be `moved around` in three spatial dimensions. Higher resolution static 3D images (of several million points/polygons) are produced from a series of images taken by a moving camera.
These still or motion photograms (points and meshes) can be combined with 2D camera images to create a photorealistic video augmented with depth information (a 3D video, which can be navigated around). We also processed this additional depth/motion data to distort the 2D images in ways that suggest the deduction of additional information, such as the intention or character of a person in the frame. By decimating (simplifying) the polygonal mesh of a person, we extract their essential character – in the same way that algorithms reduce us to a finite set of correlated data points that supposedly reveal who we really are. Facebook – and Visa – know you better than you know yourself. But, like the algorithms managing our societies, our photogrammetric algorithms produce hollow shells of characters… (Mukul Patel)
Austria, United Kingdom, Senegal
experimental, Animation/Computeranimation, Essay